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Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Keller using shiny stadium to distract from rampant crime

This article first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on August 10th, 2021.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has decided that, despite rampant crime and a homeless problem that has grown dramatically worse on his watch, building a new soccer stadium for New Mexico United should be a top city priority. The stadium itself, to be located somewhere in the vicinity of Downtown, will cost taxpayers in excess of $70 million. That doesn’t include land acquisition, parking or inevitable cost overruns.

If the City Council approves the deal, Albuquerque voters will vote on whether to finance the project this November. It is difficult to see how financing a new soccer stadium is anywhere near the top of the city’s agenda. Albuquerque is a city with serious problems.

Recently the Journal reported on rampant crime along East Central. Of course, crime and homelessness are rampant along Central, Downtown and in many parts of our city. It would be far easier to name the few places in Albuquerque where there is not a significant crime and homeless problem than to name all the places that have issues.

In a recent report WalletHub identifies the city of Albuquerque as having the fourth-highest increase in homicides per capita in the nation (2020 vs 2021). Combined with Albuquerque’s already high crime levels before the pandemic, public safety would top most lists for local needs.

Notably, the Albuquerque Police Department budget has not changed substantially in recent years. By no means am I suggesting more dollars always result in better outcomes, but the perceived lack of prioritization on public safety implicates Mayor Keller’s belief that crime is not as important as building a stadium. Or, perhaps, as he heads into his reelection campaign, he is trying to change the subject from crime to stadium.

And then there is the Downtown location. State and local governments have spent decades trying to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque with little success. With safety and homeless problems only getting worse and Downtown businesses still not recovered from the one-two punches of COVID-19 lockdowns and protests, this is a particularly risky time to invest taxpayer dollars in a Downtown stadium.

On the other hand, New Mexicans, not just locals, have flocked to The Pit, Isotopes Park and UNM Stadium for decades. These facilities are all located in the same area of town, have abundant parking shared among the various facilities and little in the way of crime or homeless issues. United does extremely well in attendance at Isotopes Park, allowing the team to vault to the top of attendance rankings in the USL.

It seems Keller is a believer in “Mad Men’s” Don Draper school of thought: If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. He has failed in the basic government task of public safety and keeping the city clean, so now he’s distracting voters with a shiny new stadium.

In the end, economists across the political spectrum agree that taxpayer-funded stadiums are economic-losers.

To that end, the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s May 2017 report “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums” concluded, “Rather than subsidizing sports stadiums, governments could finance other projects such as infrastructure or education that have the potential to increase productivity and promote economic growth.”

I urge the City Council and ultimately the voters to heed their advice.

Rio Grande Foundation is New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, the author leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.

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Economy Local Government Notable News Spaceport Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Sir Richard Branson Should Pay His Own Way Into Space Instead Of Robbing New Mexicans

The following appeared on July 21, 2021 in The Federalist:

The world is in awe that billionaire Sir Richard Branson has finally accomplished his 17-year goal of achieving spaceflight. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Unity reached 53.5 miles above the Earth with a crew including Branson. They spent a few minutes in zero gravity and returned safely to the runway of Spaceport America near the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Congratulations!

The international scene is abuzz with this latest and undeniably impressive addition to Branson’s resume: but at what cost? Branson launched his flight from Spaceport America, a project initially conceived as early as 1992 when the Southwest Space Task Force was formed to develop and advance New Mexico’s space industry. The project received seed funding through a taxpayer-approved initiative in April 2007 when voters in Doña Ana County approved the spaceport tax.

Almost every year since, supporters of Spaceport America have announced the “upcoming launch” from their facility or the need for additional tax dollars to expand the Spaceport and its capabilities. To bolster their claims for additional tax money, Spaceport America commissioned a study by the consulting firm Moss Adams of Albuquerque. The study made headlines with the implausible claim that Spaceport America began producing net benefits for New Mexico as early as 2013.

In March 2020, the Rio Grande Foundation tallied up the total costs to taxpayers, determining that New Mexicans have borne a total project cost of $275 million, while revenues approach only $54.3 million for the state over the last 12 years. The vast majority of taxpayer-funded spending related to capital projects and nearly $10 million in operational expenditures. In fact, new information shows New Mexico shelled out an additional $1.5 million in advertising expenses related to the Virgin Galactic flight.

Branson is already a billionaire. Why are New Mexico’s politicians lining the pockets of these already wealthy and successful entrepreneurs through taxpayer-funded, industry-specific subsidies? The impact of corporate welfare disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged, especially in impoverished communities like Doña Ana County and New Mexico as a whole.

In 2019, the state suffered from one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding economic lockdown of the past 15 months has certainly exacerbated our financial woes.

In fact, New Mexico trails the southwest in employment recovery. A recent report by WalletHub highlights the state’s 620 percent increase in unemployment claims, referring to the change in the number of initial unemployment insurance claims in the week of July 5, 2021 compared to the week of July 8, 2019. How can a state in this state afford to help send a billionaire to space?

Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut. But from my perspective as a New Mexican and taxpayer, he sure seems like a wild-west robber baron, holding up taxpayer stagecoaches of the poorest state in the country to fulfill his personal vendetta of beating fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the billionaire space race. He’s “Six-Gun” Branson, 21st-century robber baron, a stark reminder of our 19th-century industrial past.

In the end, his mission was accomplished. But Six-Gun Branson has only proven that he can launch his spacecraft from any airport with sufficient runway length. I’d hazard a guess that soon he’ll be riding off into the sunset while my fellow New Mexicans are left holding the $275 million bag.

Patrick Brenner is the vice president of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, he leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.

Photo Hardo Muller / Flickr
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Economy Local Government Notable News Taxes Top Issues Videos

RGF discusses hotel tax lien/lodgers tax w/ KOAT 7

Recently, RGF’s president was walking downtown and noticed the Hyatt Hotel downtown was completely closed to the public. Physical entry to the property was impossible and his phone calls were not returned.

Ultimately, it came to light thanks to an Albuquerque Journal article that the hotel was closed due to a lack of convention business AND that the City of Albuquerque had filed tax liens against several properties for lack of payment of lodgers taxes. The Rio Grande Foundation has expressed concerns in the recent past about lodgers taxesand agrees that reform is needed, BUT if the business is collecting the tax from its customers, they should be remitted.

Check out the story here and by clicking the image below:

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Economy Local Government Notable News Top Issues Videos

City of Albuquerque among “businesses” that can’t find workers

The Rio Grande Foundation and New Mexico Business Coalition are among the organizations that have raised the alarm about “enhanced” unemployment benefits and how they are a big factor making it less attractive for workers to find employment than to remain out of the work force.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller recently said that the City would “hold jobs for people until their unemployment runs out.”

Watch the story Channel 7 KOAT TV did on the issue below.

 

 

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Economy Energy and Environment Local Government Notable News Top Issues

City of Las Cruces should reject bag ban

The following appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, April 25, 2021

The City Council of Las Cruces is considering a ban on plastic bags, specifically those bags which are thinner than 2.25 millimeters thick. Restaurants may or may not be exempted from the statute, but banning plastic bags is not a viable solution to our solid waste challenges.

In fact, nearly all cities around the country and State of New Mexico including Albuquerque put their bag bans on hold for the duration of the COVID 19 pandemic. Albuquerque’s ban remains in place with no return date set.

Furthermore, while curbing the use of thin bags may seem like a reasonable policy, stores simply replace thin bags with thicker plastic bags as was done in Albuquerque. That shift led Albuquerque City councilor Pat Davis to say that he wanted to amend the City’s bag ban to also get rid of plastic bags that are thicker than 2.25 thousandths of an inch. The thicker bags were exempted from the law for the simple reason they are considered “reusable,” but Davis called the provision a “loophole.”

This discussion was going on in early March of 2020 which thankfully means it was never adopted. And, while the Centers for Disease Control has said that surface transmission of COVID 19 is extremely rare, that does not mean that banning plastic bags is a good thing for public health.

A 2018 report from Loma Linda University used data from an experiment in which researchers purposely “contaminated” a reusable bag with a harmless form of a virus. A single shopper then went through a typical grocery store, and the research team tracked the spread of the virus.

Quoting directly from the executive summary of the report, “The data show that MS2 (virus) spread to all surfaces touched by the shopper; the highest concentration occurred on the shopper’s hands, the checkout stand, and the clerk’s hands.”

Additionally in 2012 epidemiologists from the Oregon Public Health Division and Oregon Health & Science University published a peer reviewed article in the Journal of Infections Disease that documented a reusable grocery bag was the point source in an actual virus outbreak in the Pacific Northwest.

For years, people have simply believed that people will wash their bags. But Loma Linda researchers found only 3% of bags get washed. That rate may be better post-COVID than it was before, but there is also a diminished environmental benefit to reusable bags – especially in our desert environment – if they have to be washed regularly.

Instead of the City of Las Cruces micromanaging consumers’ use of plastic bags, I recommend that residents concerned with plastic pollution recycle or reuse their plastic bags instead. Plastic bag recycling programs with bins outside of local big box stores seem to have been one of the many casualties of the pandemic. Hopefully these programs return soon.

Until then, the bags make great trash can liners and can be used to pick up pet waste. I take along a bag or two on my walks and use them to clean up the neighborhood by picking up trash or aluminum cans along the way.

This final point really highlights the need for individual responsibility. Plastic bags are what you make of them. Government mandates can’t make us “green,” rather it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment around us. There will always be “loopholes” in laws such as the thickness of the plastic bags handed out at stores. For good reasons restaurants also need plastic bags and other utensils.

If you don’t want or need a bag, you are the customer and can refuse them or bring your own reusable bags. Don’t force your views on those of us who are responsible and repurpose these bags for useful, even “green” purposes.

The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

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Local Government Notable News Open Government Tax and Budget Top Issues

RGF requests and publishes public payrolls: Part 1: New Mexico Cities

New Mexico cities big and small are required to provide various public records. Unfortunately the process of requesting many of those records is onerous. That’s where the Rio Grande Foundation comes in.

We have requested, received, and published public payroll records for most of New Mexico’s major cities. You can find that information here.

To their credit, a few (typically larger) cities publish their payroll records online. You can find Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, and Santa Fe.

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ART Economy Local Government Transportation Videos

A drive through Tim Keller’s Albuquerque

Since March of 2020 (the start of COVID 19) the Rio Grande Foundation has been located in downtown Albuquerque.

While Albuquerque has never had the greatest downtown, there is no doubt that the area has been hammered by COVID 19, the riots over the summer of 2020, and Mayor Tim Keller’s lax policies towards crime and homelessness. He just announced that he will be running for reelection this fall.

The Rio Grande Foundation recently took a drive around downtown and up Central Ave./Route 66 with a mounted camera to see what the City looks like. Watch the video for yourself below.

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Constitution and Criminal Justice Issues Local Government Notable News Top Issues Videos

Is DOJ Settlement Causing Crime Increase in Albuquerque?

KOAT recently did an excellent story detailing problems with the court-ordered agreement with the Department of Justice that the City of Albuquerque has been under for several years now.

The agreement has cost taxpayers $20 million to pay for training, equipment, staffing and a court-appointed monitor and, while it is hard to prove causation, violent crime in the City has increased by 53 percent.

Watch the full story here. Gessing appears at the end of the Story.

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Education Local Government Notable News Top Issues

Tracking New Mexico School District Reopening

The Rio Grande Foundation has long called for basic education reforms that would empower parents and families when it comes to education resources including school choice. But, with the onset of COVID 19 and many districts moving to “virtual only” models, we have joined the Centers for Disease Control and many others in calling for students to return to their classrooms.

We will be tracking announced school reopenings under Gov. Lujan Grisham’s latest orders which call for hybrid learning for ALL students to begin on February 8. Check this space for updates. We gleaned this information from various district and news websites. If you have new info please let us know at: info@riograndefoundation.org

District Date
Alamogordo Secondary – Feb. 16, Elementary – Feb. 22
Albuquerque Delayed decision
Artesia Feb. 8
Bloomfield Some primary students in hybrid already, Secondary – Feb. 16
Carlsbad Feb. 8
Central Secondary – Feb. 16
Cloudcroft Primary already in-person, Secondary – Feb. 9
Clovis Pre-K-5th already in hybrid, other grades under consideration
Cuba Remote through March 5
Estancia Secondary – Feb. 8
Farmington Primary already hybrid, 6th, 9th graders – Feb 8, Other secondary Feb. 16
Fort Sumner Middle, High school – Feb. 8
Gallup-McKinley All grades — Feb. 9
Hobbs Elementary – Feb. 8, 6th, 9th, 10th grade – Feb. 11-12, all students – Feb. 16
Las Cruces Will allow students who need in-person, but delayed broader reopening
Las Vegas Will remain virtual throughout the rest of the school year
Magdalena 6th-12th grade – Feb. 8
Portales All grades — Feb. 9
Rio Rancho Elementary students have been in hybrid model. No broader plan yet
Roswell Will restart this month, no date yet
Santa Fe All grades — Feb. 22
Silver Middle, High school – Feb. 15-18
Truth or Consequences All students Feb. 16
Tucumcari All students Feb. 8
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Constitution and Criminal Justice Legislature Local Government Notable News Top Issues

RGF had a day in court (10th Circuit to be exact) defending free speech

The Rio Grande Foundation is a staunch advocate for free speech and the ability for speech by those who want to speak without having their name and personal information spread all over the Internet and media outlets.

Dating back to our efforts against Santa Fe’s proposed (and defeated) soda and sugary drinks tax, the Foundation has been fighting against Santa Fe’s donor disclosure rule with legal representation from Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. You can read the details of the hearing and the case itself here.

The issue of free  and private speech is relevant in the US Congress these days with the US Congress considering HR 1, legislation that would chill free speech.